Here I go again, ready or not! Here's a story that takes place after Muppets from Earth, and is called... Masks, Part 1: In the Arches by Kim McFarland ***** Kermit the Frog bounced onstage, in front of the Muppet Show logo, and announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, it's the Muppet show, with our very special guest star!" He waved his arms and cheered, then hopped to the top of the logo, which rose and disappeared into the flyspace. The familiar theme song played as the curtains opened, revealing a set of arches. Thog, Timmy, Sweetums, Fletcher Bird, and Bobo strutted onstage and through the lowest row of arches, then struck a pose. A set of female Muppets came in from the right wings into the next row of arches, singing, "It's time to play the music, It's time to light the lights! It's time to meet the Muppets On the Muppet Show tonight." From the left wings, a set of male Muppets came onstage, singing, "It's time to put on makeup, It's time to dress up right It's time to get things started-" Kermit, sitting in the middle of one row of arches, sang, "It's time to get things started-" Then everyone sang, "It's time to get things started On the most sensational, inspiration, Celebrational, Muppetational, This is what we call The Muppet show!" The logo lowered again, with Gonzo in the center of the O. He drew in a breath and blew, and the sound of a gong rang out. He reeled backward as if stunned by the noise. Kermit looked over to his left. "How'd that look?" Scooter, who was sitting at a bank of monitors just offstage, said, "Looked great, Chief." Scooter was surrounded by a gaggle of other Muppets, who were peering curiously at the new technology. Each monitor was hooked to a camera inconspicuously attached to the underside of the balcony, the box seats, and various other locations so they could film the stage from all angles. A tech could control the cameras from here, but it looked to Scooter as if, in most cases, they could just set 'em and forget 'em. A different set of Muppets took their marks in the upper arches. Beauregard, wearing a purple tuxedo, ambled onstage and said, "Muppet Show intro, scene 3B." He held a clapboard up, snapped it on his fingers, winced, and walked offstage. The music playback began again, and the Muppets onstage sang, "On the most sensational, inspiration, Celebrational, Muppetational, This is what we call The Muppet show!" Kermit pushed his way through the crowd backstage, barely avoiding stepping on a cluster of furry, multicolored, spherical creatures, and asked, "How was that?" "I'd say it's a keeper." Scooter pressed some buttons, and the second sequence played back from several angles. "Oh, good. Let's keep going," Kermit said, and crossed the stage, where a third set of Muppets was assembling. They would do enough takes to fit everyone in, and then composite them together. Some of the more experienced Muppets were hanging out backstage right, which for once was the less busy area. Miss Piggy, dressed in a strapless dress with matching gloves, looked as if she wanted to say something to Kermit, but instead just grabbed him up in a rib-creaking hug. He had barely the breath to squawk. Dr. Teeth, up in the balcony, grinned, as was his wont. Gonzo noticed, but did not comment on what was, after all, a fairly typical scene. Fozzie did not notice because he was busy pitching ideas at Gonzo. "It'd be really funny to have something come out of it." "Like what? We've already done smoke, a bee, an airplane, my teeth, and other stuff." "How about a cream pie?" "How would that fit in the trumpet?" "The same way the plane did. Or maybe have it come at you instead, you know. Er, if you don't mind. Um, I mean, pies are funny." Gonzo thought about that. "A pie to the face? Gotta admit, nobody'd see that coming." Camilla, who was wearing the chicken equivalent of an evening dress, her costume for her stint in the arches, clucked, It's always pies with him. Gonzo answered in English, "But with me it'd be different." Billie, who was about to celebrate her first birthday, started forward. She was deep into the toddler stage, and wanted to wander everywhere and get into everything. Camilla quickly put her wings around the chick, who squeaked indignantly. She was tired of being fenced in. Without pausing the conversation Gonzo picked his daughter up. She stopped complaining—if she couldn't have adventure, attention would do—and began playing with the flower in his buttonhole. "How about a cannonball? Have you shot a cannonball out your trumpet? You could do it the same way you did the plane and other stuff." Startled, Gonzo said, "I can't believe I've never thought of that." ** A few hours later, the day's shooting was finished. They had shot all but the episode-specific parts of the opening and closing segments, in the process testing out the new camera setup. Now Kermit called everyone into the theater house. They filled the lower seating area. Kermit sat informally on the edge of the orchestra pit. For once he did not have to shout for attention; everyone was eager to hear him. He said, "Everything looked great. We've gotten all the footage we can today; the rest will be shot show-by-show. "The deal is inked. We'll be filming for TV during our regular shows. It won't be much different from before. We'll just use the best parts for TV." Rowlf called out, "What do you mean by 'best'?" Kermit answered, "Most entertaining, of course." "Thought so," the dog said, grinning. "There will be one significant change in the schedule," Kermit continued. "We'll be performing Fridays through Mondays as before, and rehearsing on Tuesdays through Thursdays. However, the show will only run Friday through Sunday. On Mondays we'll film backstage bits and anything else that doesn't fit in the stage show." There was some muttering, but this was no surprise. Kermit waited it out, then said, "I want to thank everyone for sticking with the show. Some of you have been with me since the beginning, and we've picked up the rest of you over the years. I don't say it enough—thanks, everybody. You're all like family to me, and I think you're the greatest folks I've known in my life!" Rowlf replied, "We're just about all the folks you've known in your life!" That wasn't true—Kermit had thousands of brothers, sisters, and other family members back in the swamp—but it was worth a laugh. Kermit said, "The show will open in two weeks. We've got the acts for that one planned, and enough for a bunch more shows, but we need more. Lots more. And it doesn't matter if they're too silly or short for the stage show. We can still film things on the fourth day for the TV version. We're also booking guest stars. And this time some of them actually want to be on the show! "So, last word and then I'll shut up. It's gonna be great, so let's do what we do best: just dive in and have a ball!" The cheers and applause knocked Kermit backward into the orchestra pit. ***** All characters except Billie are copyright © The Muppets Studio, LLC and are used without permission but with much respect and affection. Billie is copyright© Kim McFarland (firstname.lastname@example.org), as is the overall story. Permission is given by the author to copy it for personal use only.